We’ve gotten to the midway point for many of the teams in the league, and as the dust begins to settle from the furious start to the season, we’re finally making out which teams will distinguish themselves as true playoff contenders and which seem to have been flashes in the pan, bright but fleeting in this 2013 NFL season. Paradoxically, with this clarity also comes a newfound fuzziness, as there is a bevy of top-tier teams, any of which would not be a far-fetched pick to win it all. Seven teams are on pace to have 12 wins or more, which would be an NFL record, beating 2003 and 2011 (in which 6 teams had at least 12-4 records). There are nine teams I believe to be “elite”; “elite,” in my book, is defined as the level a team is at where a Super Bowl victory at the end of the season would truly be unsurprising to anybody. With so many good teams, it’s hard to rank any of them over others, as its easy to see any one of them beating any one of the others. As such, take this list with a grain of salt. The margin between #1 and any other team on this list is considerably smaller than it would be at this point of any other season. In keeping with this theme and in honor of Halloween, I’ll be telling you the reason each of the teams listed below is scary: why they’re a true threat to make a run for the Lombardi Trophy.
- Kansas City Chiefs (8-0) – This team has the #1 scoring defense in the league and is on pace to break the single season record for most team sacks. That’s a recipe that has worked pretty well in the past against the historically explosive offenses, much like:
- The Denver Broncos (7-1) – Peyton Manning (3 INTs) and the Broncos had by all accounts an “off” day against Washington and still managed to beat them by 24 points.
- Indianapolis Colts (5-2) – Could easily be #2 (refer to previously alluded to razor-thin differences between teams). They’ve beaten every team in the top 5 (other than themselves of course) except for the Chiefs, who they haven’t had a chance to play yet (Week 16, and what a game that will be). Enough said.
- Seattle Seahawks (7-1) – This is a team that has shown us they can win in virtually every fashion imaginable – they have won games by scores of 12-7, 14-9, 20-13 . . . they have also won games by scores of 29-3, 45-17, and 34-22. This team can pull out victories in low-scoring struggles, dominant blowouts and everything in between.
- San Francisco 49ers (6-2) – Five straight wins later, the 49ers look far removed from their 1-2 start, and Colin Kaepernick is playing efficient, winning football. This is the reigning NFC Champion – they’re going to be in the mix come January.
- New Orleans Saints (6-1) – The Saints came out strong after their bye week and look to be back on track. They still boast perhaps the league’s most complete team, being the only group in the NFL to employ both a top 5 scoring offense and scoring defense.
- Cincinnati Bengals (6-2) – The Bengals are the only other team on this list to have beaten three top 10 (on this list) teams (Patriots, Packers, Lions). They’ve shown they can hang with anybody, and having a stifling defense doesn’t hurt, either.
- New England Patriots (6-2) – Interesting statistic: the Patriots, since 2010, are 23-1 in the second half of the season, their sole loss coming in a single-score defeat to eventual NFC Champion 49ers last year when a furious 28-point comeback was cut short. Should this trend continue, a first-round bye in the playoffs is almost assured for the Patriots for the fourth year in a row.
- Green Bay Packers (5-2) – The Packers are racking up 439 yards per game on offense and have shown their scoring attack can keep them in a game with anyone. This team is flying under the radar right now, and if it wins every game that it should from here on out, it will be entering the postseason on a 13-game winning streak. Seems far-fetched, but remember, they won 13 in a row just two years ago.
- Detroit Lions (5-3) – This team showed it has some fight, and Calvin Johnson put his transcendent athletic prowess on display Sunday, producing the greatest regulation-length game receiving performance in NFL history. With an offensive weapon like that wearing your uniform, you’re never out of a game.
- Carolina Panthers (4-3) – The Panthers have perhaps the most underrated defense in the league at this moment; 2nd in scoring defense, 3rd in yards allowed, this unit is as good as any in the league right now, and a look ahead to their remaining schedule reveals that a 9 or 10 win season is not out of the question. We all know that once you’re in the dance, you’ve got a chance.
- San Diego Chargers (4-3) – So that #3 team that beat the #2, #4 and #5 teams? This team beat that team, and by double digits, no less. The Chargers have emerged as a playoff contender in what may be the toughest division in the league right now, something almost no one saw coming (indeed, most saw the exact opposite).
- Dallas Cowboys (4-4) – Dallas pretty much plays to the level of it’s opponent – fire with fire, so to speak. It’ll score 48 against the highest scoring team in the league (Denver) and hold the #1 scoring defense’s team (Kansas City) to 17 points. It’s a team that has been in and can win every game it plays, the players just need to learn to finish off the day.
- New York Jets (4-4) – Despite a tough loss to the Bengals, this team has already shown it can bounce back immediately from knockdown blows. After every defeat this season, this team has responded with an impressive victory.
- Arizona Cardinals (4-4) – The only teams to beat two or more teams on this list? The Colts, the Seahawks, the 49ers, the Bengals, the Patriots, and . . . you guessed it, the Cardinals. They’re the quietest 4-win team in the league; don’t be surprised if they sneak into the 6th seed in the NFC playoffs.
What do you think? Agree, disagree? Leave your thoughts below in the comments section!
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